Who are the Parties in a Criminal Case?

As a criminal defense lawyer, I often get questions about my criminal cases such as, “Who represents the victim in that case?” or “Who is suing who in that case?” The answer to both questions is usually no one.

When one person accuses another person of a state crime, the District Attorney’s Office where the alleged crime occurred decides whether to prosecute the case. If the District Attorney’s Office decides to prosecute, the case is typically assigned to an assistant district attorney. The assistant district attorney does not represent the alleged victim in the case, but instead represents the State of North Carolina. In federal court, the United States Attorney’s Office handles the cases and represents the United States of America, not the alleged victim.

Therefore, in criminal cases, the parties are either the United States of America versus the defendant, or the State of North Carolina versus the defendant. The alleged victim is not a party in the case.

Sometimes an alleged victim will hire an attorney independently to walk him or her through the process. That attorney might prepare the alleged victim for trial or might keep in touch with the District Attorney’s Office on the alleged victim’s behalf. However, that attorney is not a party in the case and cannot participate in any of the criminal proceedings.

No suing occurs in criminal court and there are no plaintiffs in criminal court. Lawsuits only happen in civil court. However, an alleged victim in a criminal case might also sue the defendant. If he or she does so, he or she becomes the plaintiff in the civil case. In a civil case, the parties are the plaintiff versus the defendant.

If you have been charged with a crime and need a criminal defense attorney who can walk you through the process, give us a call for a free consultation at 704-490-4944.